Moderna should do its part, share its vaccine
Cambridge firm should help developing nations deal with virus
THROUGH MOST of 2020, most of us had never heard of Moderna, a small start-up pharmaceutical company based in Cambridge. The company had brought no product to market and had lost $241 million during the first half of the year. But, in January 2020, scientists at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) were already at work designing the “spike” protein molecule that Moderna’s vaccine would eventually use to trigger a human immune response against the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
To be clear, until early January, these designs were focused on several other coronaviruses and used a new vaccine platform called messenger RNA, or mRNA. Recognized as an innovative vaccine technology, this is the foundational research and antigen design that allowed the NIH and its collaborators to, in less than 48 hours, design the “spike” protein that their candidate COVID-19 vaccine would use to teach the immune system to fend off the virus.
Since then, Moderna has become a household name thanks to its vaccine, which was developed with $6 billion worth of American taxpayer assistance and whose profits catapulted three company executives onto Forbes’ list of the 400 wealthiest people. Without the NIH research and development support, it is unlikely that Moderna would have become so profitable, a fact that its CEO Stéphane Bancel readily admits.
Not only did Moderna receive billions in public financial support, but the Trump-Pence administration also cut a very generous deal with the fledgling company in the summer of 2020. Under the agreement, Moderna would not have to share its technology with the government bankrolling its production. It also prohibited the company from sharing doses delivered to the United States with the rest of the world, according to reports from Vanity Fair.
Public pressure is building. US Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who lives a stone’s throw from Moderna’s headquarters, led a group of lawmakers in pushing for vaccine equity and sharing of its technology. Maine Sen. Angus King has urged Moderna to follow the example of Merck and license its technology to generic manufacturers and the UN-backed Medicines Patent Pool, an organization formed to boost access to life-saving drugs to low-and middle-income nations.
The Biden-Harris Administration, leading global public health experts, and world religious leaders, including Pope Francis, have been pushing the company to do more, including selling its vaccine at a lower price to developing countries, which Moderna has so far yet to do.In a healthcare system massively subsidized by the American government, with a re-committed moral vision to help developing nations, we should expect more from the corporations that benefit so much from us taxpayers. Now is the time for Moderna to do its part and be a good corporate citizen and for the rest of us to hold them accountable if they are not.
Jamie Eldridge is a state senator from Acton.